Message: When Tradition Is Not Enough | Scripture: Luke 8:40-42 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: Come Thou Fount; How Deep Our Father’s Love; O Great God; Here Is Love.
Luke 8:40-42—This is the Word of the Lord—Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she way dying. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him.
TCCBC, the idea that I want to leave all of you with today, especially for you in the room who are one of two things: fathers or men (and, of course, some of you are both), is that the best thing you can do for your family—the best thing you can do for your children—the best thing you can do for your church and the people you’re called to be spiritual fathers to—is to run to Jesus. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. It doesn’t matter what your background is, or what you’ve accomplished. For the sake of your family, your friends, your church, run to Jesus.
We all have that tendency in life, especially as mostly Chinese people in this room, to limp to Jesus as a secondary or tertiary solution when we need something from him. And I can say that quite confidently because I’ve seen it my whole life in a context much like this one. Our culture tends to preach self-sufficiency, familial piety—it tends to preach the value of tradition and honour over desperation, charity, and dependence. One of my family’s greatest unspoken fears was to be in a position where we’d be forced to ask or beg others for help—monetary help, physical help, emotional help, let alone, spiritual help. My parents were great at trying to break the mold with this, but even they have difficulty with it still.
We’re taught in subtle ways by our culture to be economically sufficient—if you need help, don’t let a lot of people know, just make sure to put your head down and work harder. We have to be mentally sharp—if you’re feeling low, then don’t tell anyone, put on a brave face, don’t show weakness. We have to be the spiritual gurus of every situation—if you’re feeling distant from Christ or struggling with sin, don’t confess it, just stop doing it—don’t be accountable for it, don’t seek help for it, just do better. And while none of this is probably ever said out loud, it’s something that most of us in this room have likely felt or considered consciously or unconsciously before.
And our passage today deals with someone very much like this. His name is Jairus, and he’s a man deeply rooted within a culture of law and tradition with a lot of expectations for strength and very little room for weakness and vulnerability. But Jesus has come to upset that establishment, just like he means to upset ours. He means to show us what it looks like to flee to him not only when it’s most convenient for us or most suitable for our reputations but to do so even when it might cost us our convenience and our reputations. I want to talk about this Jesus this morning, and I want to talk about it, especially to the fathers and men in our midst—those called to set the example for our women and the children. What is the best way to love our physical and spiritual families? Fathers—men—run to Jesus. Find strength in desperation. Find strength in your weakness. Find it in Christ as we turn now to unpacking our text.
Our task, whenever we look at passages like this—texts that are narrating a particular set of facts for us, is to notice a couple of things. The first thing we should notice is the setting. Where are Jesus and his disciples right now? Well, verse 40 tells us, “when Jesus returned.” Returned to where, you might ask?
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to read Luke in a while, let me remind you that Luke is really divided up into three parts. It’s divided up, firstly, from chapters 1 until 9:50 where Jesus intentionally remains in Galilee for most of that time to proclaim the kingdom of God to the poor and lowly and to do wondrous deeds amongst them. The second portion of Luke from 9:51 until 19:27 is where the good doctor emphasizes Christ’s switch in focus from being in Galilee to setting his face towards Jerusalem and the cross. Finally, in our third section, from Luke 19:28 until the end of chapter 24, we receive Luke’s account of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and exaltation.
I wanted to take this moment to break down the format of Luke for you because where we are in our text is at a point of transition. Jesus is about to turn his face and head towards Jerusalem, and before he does that, he has to make sure that the people whom he’s come to save—those who are in Galilee, outside of Jerusalem—have enough evidence to understand who he is. He doesn’t want them ending up like those who are inside of Jerusalem. He doesn’t want them being misled with ideas of who their Pharisees expect him to be. They have to know exactly who he is, what he’s come to do, and how he intends to do it. He is the Messiah, but he is not a political liberator, nor is he intent on re-establishing the earthly, Jewish monarchy. He’s come for something far greater and glorious than that. And just as Jesus wanted those around him to know this, Luke wants us to know this too. He wants us to see who this Jesus is truly—not just some miracle worker, but the Saviour of our humanity, God’s only Son sent to us to dwell amongst us and to die for us.
It’s in this context, in Galilee, before Christ sets his face towards Jerusalem, that we’re to notice the second thing in this narrative, and that’s the characters. Thus, enters Jairus into the scene. See, Jesus had developed quite a following, especially in Galilee. It says here, in verse 40, that the people welcomed him as he returned—they were waiting for him, but there were surely some in this place who did not welcome him or wait for him. Jairus would have been one of those individuals.
We’re not given a lot of details about Jairus, but what little we are given paints a vivid picture. He’s a ruler of the synagogue. This means, firstly, that he is a Jew of Jews—in charge of Jewish affairs for that entire city. The synagogue would have been the centre of cultural life in that area since the Jerusalem temple would normally be too far for people to travel to regularly. So, he was a celebrity in these parts, or at the very least, he was highly regarded and respected as someone within the upper ranks of the Jewish community.
What’s more is that he was likely very wealthy because of his position. We’re told in later verses that he has a house, he has servants, which is attested to by the other gospels, and when his daughter actually dies, they have professional wailers and criers in their home. These are the people, when Jesus says later on, “she’s not dead but sleeping,” they laugh. So, this man is pretty wealthy to have all these things and to hire all these people.
Thirdly, he must have been a man who regarded the words of the Tanakh very highly (the Jewish Bible, which is our Old Testament) and kept to its rules very strictly. The only way he would be able to maintain his position as a ranking official amongst Jews was to be an exemplary follower of the law. And that doesn’t mean only the written law found in the pages of Scripture but also the additional laws—the interpretive laws—that were given by Jewish leaders.
All of these things point us to the fact that, as someone who was this engrained in Jewish culture, the name “Jesus” would have been an unwelcomed sound to his ears, and any association with him would have brought about great shame and possible rejection. Why? Because Jesus was everything that he stood against. This Jesus was a Jew, yet he criticized the leaders who helped him keep the synagogue in order. He constantly slandered the Jewish establishment and traditions for misinterpreting and misunderstanding God’s laws. Essentially, men like Jairus had been living their lives completely wrong according to Jesus!
Additionally, this Jesus cared for the poor—people who had no money to give him or the synagogue—those who had been cast out because of their uselessness to society. He sought to comfort the sick and spiritually unclean—something that we read about in these very stories as the woman who bled for twelve years touches him, and as he goes into the house of Jairus where his dead daughter lies, and he touches her. He was doing things and teaching things that the Jewish people hated doing and refused to teach. He was lavishly caring for people who, in the eyes of the Jews, did not deserve his or their care. Jesus was Jewish, and yet he was Judaism’s greatest enemy, and Jairus would have been at the top of the list of those who saw him this way.
3) The Twist
But there’s a twist. Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter is sick, and not only is she sick, she’s dying. Now, let me frame the picture for you. Daughters in this context and culture meant very little. They had no right to inheritance. They were often a burden on families not only because they couldn’t earn an income but also because when it came time for them to get married, it would often be a very expensive affair for her family. This was especially the case if you wanted her to marry into a good family—you needed a large dowry to entice the groom’s family to take her in. Since women couldn’t work, and men were expected to stay at home with their own mother and father to support them into their old age and take on the family business, the wife would be required to leave her home and join her husband’s family. So, fathers of the bride would have to contribute a dowry sufficient enough to provide for the burden of taking care of his daughter for the rest of her life. See, this was a culture with no handouts—there was no room for begging or charity.
In other words, in this culture, no one prefers to have a daughter. If it was a son who was sick, then yes, the father would run for the nearest and best doctors because his and his family’s livelihood depended upon it. But for a girl? A twelve-year-old—she’s right at the age where they might start considering her for marriage—normally, women in this time would get married around 12-14, but if she’s sick and deathly, no one is going to want to marry her. She is going to be a burden on her own family forever. Letting her die would be an easy route to take, for some families, maybe even a preferable one. It’d save them a lot of grief, and honestly, in that culture, it would have been seen as a mercy because it would have saved the daughter herself a lot of shame and hardship as well.
Yet, this Jairus, for all of his esteem, his influence, Jewish heritage, and adherence to the Law, he cannot save his daughter regardless of his influence or affluence. And so he goes to the only one who might be able to do so—one whom he has no power over. He flees to Jesus. And not only does he go to Jesus, but he, not his servants nor his wife, falls at Jesus’ feet, likely ruining his career and ruining his respectability in his own community.
And notice this, he makes no demands of Jesus, as he probably could have in that place. Instead, he begs. He lowers himself and risks everything that he has on the hope that this Jesus of Nazareth—this enemy of the Jewish faith—might come into his house and save his daughter out of his mercy and not because others think he’s worthy of it. Here, in front of his greatest enemy, he condescends himself—he humiliates himself—for the sake of saving this lowly, insignificant daughter.
But Luke is very good with words. And he actually tells us why Jairus goes to these lengths. That reason is already implied, but he makes it explicit with one word: the word is “only.” Jairus had an only daughter. Directly translated, this is a word we know very well—it’s the word for “only begotten”—she was his only begotten daughter. And in hearing this word, we, along with all those who are reading, are to understand the clear parallel that Luke is making to Jesus—the only begotten Son of the Father. Here, Luke is trying to draw our eyes towards the intimacy that this father had with his daughter by directly referencing the greatest relationship that has ever existed between God the Father and God the Son.
And so, it makes sense. Here, before us, is this man who would plead this way before his enemy because he couldn’t bear the idea of losing the only daughter that had ever been born to him. Make no mistake, brothers and sisters, this is extravagant love on full display. This man can’t afford to lose his daughter not because of the value she brings into his house but because of the value that she brings into his life. He is a girl-dad. He is this girl’s dad. And he relishes in that fact. He doesn’t care what her prospects are. He doesn’t care what it might cost him for her to have a good life. He simply wants to be able to share his life with her. So, yes, he’s running and falling and begging at the feet of Jesus—everything else, while good to have, means nothing to him in comparison.
It is not told to us whether or not Jairus has other sons. But what we know is he only has one, begotten daughter, and he would jump through every and any means available to him in order to save her. There is a recklessness to this kind of love—that this man would spend everything he has for her well-being—that he would give away his most prized possession, his rank as the ruler of the synagogue, to see her live, and he does exactly that.
And what of the other character that we’re supposed to notice? What about Jesus? Well, I think it’s pretty clear from what takes place in the rest of this story that he sees Jairus for who he is and for what he’s done. He sees him as a man who has spurned all of his reputation for his child, and Jesus is compassionate towards him. Remember, it’s not like Jesus didn’t have other things to do. He was, as verse 42 tells us, surrounded—the word literally is “choked”—by the mass of people trying to get his attention. He could have chosen to help any one of them, but he chooses the one who hates him.
Why does Jesus do this? Because he understands this kind of love. If these people are ever going to understand who he is before he sets his face towards Jerusalem, they have to understand this: he loves them with an unspeakable and extravagant love like this man loves his daughter. If you’re ever going to receive a picture of the gospel, Galilee, this is it. Jesus came to his enemies who hated him and rejected him. Jesus condescended himself before them. Jesus gets on his hands and knees and pleads to his Father for them. Jesus, then, takes his hands and knees and is nailed to a cross for them. In his condescension and humiliation, he is ruined for our salvation, and Jairus of all people shows this to us—a ruler of the Jewish synagogue—the most glamorous and glorious of all the Jews—he counts it all as loss for the sake of the one whom he loves!
Fathers and men, if there is anything you can do for anyone today whom you claim to love, it is to be like this man, Jairus, and run to Jesus desperately and urgently. It is our job to give our lives for them, and I don’t mean making money for their security or leaving them with an earthly inheritance. I mean coming home and not neglecting your wife because you’re too busy thinking about your work. I mean carrying out your duty to lead your home in reading, singing, praying, and unpacking the Word. I mean regularly fellowshipping with your covenanted brothers and sisters as you confess sin and pursue holiness together. I mean going to all those lost souls who walk by you on a daily basis and witnessing to them about the sweetness of the gospel. I mean pleading for the salvation of your children and the young people in your midst and laying down your sense of pride, accomplishment, and dignity for their sakes. I mean showing them the true nature of who Jesus is so that as he sets his face towards Jerusalem, they might understand why he must go to that cross—because our sin is great and our death is sure, but his love for us is greater and his victory over the grave is secured.
Here in Jairus is the cross of Christ displayed but in a lesser way. Because while Jairus gives up everything he has for one whom he loves and for one who loves him, Jesus gives up everything he has for those who have made themselves his enemies and for those who hate and despise him.
On this Father’s Day, fathers and men especially, but this applies to you wives and women as well, make it your priority to run—not walk, not saunter—RUN to Jesus. Run to Jesus who alone can save you from sin. Run to Jesus and point your wife and your children towards him in everything that you do. If there is something that you’re doing that distracts you and distracts them from that Jesus, cut it out. This, dear fathers—this, dear men—is your obligation and responsibility in life more than anything else. It isn’t about your job. It isn’t about your fame or respect. It isn’t about your social or economic standing amongst other families or other people who you compare yourself to. None of that can save you. None of that can save your wife. None of that can save your children. Only Jesus can.
Teach your family who God is as Creator of heaven and earth—as the one who desires to share his glory with us. Teach your family what sin is as the ultimate rebellion against a most glorious, creator God. Teach them how we fall short in every little thing that we do. But as you teach them about our imperfection—as you teach them about our rebellion and our natural tendency for evil—teach them about Jesus who loves us despite our hatred of him, who came in human form to save us, and he has saved us by dying upon a cross and suffering the wages of our sin in our stead. And then show them what it looks like to repent and obey. Give them a life of your own willing sacrifice. Give them a life of your own voluntary death. Give them a life of your own love for Christ—a Christ who, while we were still sinners, died for us so that we might be raised up to new life and live with him forever.
I started by talking about being a part of a culture that is very similar to Jairus’. I grew up in this exact kind of place. I grew up knowing the requirements of Chinese reputation and expectation. I grew up with people expecting me to do what is right all the time only to be met with disappointment and contempt when I didn’t measure up. Many of you may have heard some of my stories about how, as a child, I was the disappointment in my church and even in and amongst my own extended family.
And yet, in spite of all that, do you know what has made the most impact in my life? It was the fact that I have a father who, amongst all that noise that surrounded him—that was choking him and pressuring him to show his own displeasure upon me and reject my waywardness—instead of giving me what I deserved, he loved me anyway. He showed me compassion. He ran to Jesus. He still runs to Jesus for me, and it is everything in my life to know that he does. And not only him, but my wife does this for me also. My friends do this for me. And I know, you, my church, do this for me—for your pastors—for your leaders. So, I am asking you, fathers—I am asking you, men—do this with the same zeal and fire for your families—for our women, for our children because unless you do it, who will? Plead for them at the feet of Christ.
Our ceremonies, our traditions, our culture—they are not enough for the work that needs to be done to redeem us from the pit of death, but Jesus is. Run to him now because he is worthy of our sacrifice as the one who was sacrificed. Run to him because he has set his face to Jerusalem in order to show you not only that he’s come to do great things for you but that he loves you.
Here is love, vast as the ocean, lovingkindness as the flood
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom
Shed for us His Precious Blood.
Who will not remember his love, who can cease to sing His praise?
He shall never be forgotten throughout heaven’s eternal days!